Forming a connection with your horse is beneficial for both of you and it’s great fun!
We asked behavioural expert Richard Maxwell for advice on bonding with your horse.
1. Build confidence using obstacles
Getting your horse used to spooky things in a controlled environment, like your school, will mean he’ll respond better if something happens when out hacking.
“You’ve got to have a little bit of provocation,” says Richard. “When a horse has a spook at something, or a lack of understanding, they need to be able to rely on you in bad situation.”
Creating an obstacle course, or walking your horse by a spooky piece of tarpaulin, is a easy way of earning their trust. They’ll rely on you to get them through the situation.
“If your horse feels safe when other things are going on around him, then being in your presence reinforces that feeling of safety.”
2. Find his itchy spot
Where your horse wants to be scratched might not be on the most obvious place. Rather than going straight for the withers, try scratching him under his belly, or round his chest. “Creating empathy with your horse is very important,” says Richard. “When you watch a horse being scratched you can tell how much they enjoy it, so then they associate that pleasurable feeling with you.”
Reaching a tricky spot that he can’t get to will make him very grateful and it’s a great way of bonding.
3. Lunge to connect
If you can’t ride, then lunging your horse in the school can work just as well.
“When you work with your horse on a circle, ask him to stop and look at you. Mirror what they do and you create a rapport,” says Richard, “If he licks and chews, you lick and chew, if he inhales, you exhale.”
4. Create relaxation triggers
When your horse is starting to become stressed, employ a few familiar verbal and physical commands, such as stroking and patting, to get him into a relaxed state again.
“Train something into your horse that reminds him to relax. With these actions,
you create a bond.”
Richard recommends gently lowering your horse’s head to the ground by applying pressure on his neck. This simple action makes most horses feel relaxed quickly.
5. Lead him
Walking your horse in hand can be a great way of earning his trust.
“To create a bond, he has got to understand what you want,” says Richard. “It’s less about understanding the horse and more about them understanding you.”
When you lead your horse, he should always respect your personal space. Try walking in front of your horse and make sure that he keeps that distance between the pair of you.